Category: S, A, MSR
Disclaiming all: Chris Carter owns M&S; Fox owns The XFiles; I own this story. No infringement intended. Archive: Sure.
Thanks to: Amy, Weyo, Joanna, and Euphrosyne for enduring months and months and months and months of whining, Tess for infinite patience, Char, Carol, Aly, Deia and the rest of the BTT gang for the inspiration and opportunity.
Written as part of the Project Truthseekers Alternative Season Nine.
Summary: While on assignment to as part of a multi-national forensics team in Mexico, Scully and Reyes get more than they bargained for.
Scully tucked her hand-out under her arm, filled her mug with coffee, took a muffin from under its Plexiglas dome, and scanned the crowd, hoping to find a familiar friendly face or two. Aside from a couple of lab techs she recognized by sight from Quantico and another pathologist - Dodgeson? Dobson? - whom she vaguely recalled working along side during one of her trips to the LA field office, the forty or so people milling around the enormous open-sided tent were strangers. She'd be working up-close and personal with these people over the next six days, she reminded herself, so she should probably meet and mingle, but too little sleep and too early an hour were making her feel less than sociable. Over a decade of steeping in Mulder's paranoia was probably not helping matters, either.
"Dana! Over here."
Scully turned. "Monica," she said, surprised. She made her way through the rows of folding chairs and knots of colleagues to where Agent Reyes stood. "What are you doing here?"
Monica, looking sweaty and exhausted, plunked herself down. "Skinner called me off a case in Seattle, said someone on this one requested my 'unique expertise'."
Scully sat. "Oh?"
Monica shrugged. "Don't ask me."
"You looked beat," Scully said. "Bad flight?"
"Bad flights, plural," Monica corrected. "I caught the red eye to Dallas, made the connection to Cancun, ran across a field to catch a puddle jumper from there to Ixtal-" she lifted her foot - "in these heels, and then sat on that alleged bus for an hour and a half. And then the jeep-" She shook her head, then glanced at her watch. "I got in about half an hour ago. Or maybe I haven't arrived yet. The way I feel right now, I can't tell."
Scully smiled and offered up her cup. "Coffee?"
Monica's eyes lit up as she took the cup. "Oh, Dana, you are the best person on the planet. Maybe in the solar system. Thank you."
"No problem. I can get more. And you can pay me back with babysitting."
"Deal," Monica agreed, eagerly taking a sip from the cup. "Remember when they used to give you food on planes?"
"Vaguely," she said, recalling one mediocre meal after another from the early days of her partnership with Mulder. They'd always been on the road or in the air, back then. Seemed like a lifetime ago.
Scully broke off a chunk of her muffin. "They assign you a bed yet?"
Monica glanced at the slip of paper in her hand. "Tent 4 Bed B."
"My tent," Scully said, pleased.
"Oooh!" Monica squealed. "We can do each other's hair and talk about boys!"
Scully chuckled. "Something like that." At least she'd be bunking with one person she knew. It wasn't that she'd become anti-social, she told herself, it was just that some days, the old saying was true - the more she knew people, the better she liked her dog. Or, in her case, the better she liked Mulder's fish. Monica, however, was a known quantity. A rather frenetic known quantity at times, but Scully counted her among her friends. Monica outranked the fish any day. We're supposed to get another person in there, probably from the French delegation, but she hasn't shown up yet." She glanced around. "John with you?"
Monica shook her head. "He's still in Seattle, dotting the i's and crossing the t's on the Tillotson case."
Scully nodded. She'd reviewed the autopsies on that case a week before. "Or, knowing John," she suggested, "crossing the i's and dotting the t's."
Monica softly snorted into the cup. "God, I hope not. I need him to get back to DC and FedEx me my hiking boots asap."
"Have you been briefed?"
Monica shook her head. "Just the Cliff notes version, and a few pages were missing. Like, all of them, really. You get the rundown back in DC?"
Scully nodded. "Not a lot, though, just -" she began.
"Ooh," Monica reached out and snagged Scully's necklace. "This is new."
Scully's hand went to the locket she now wore next to her cross. "Mother's Day gift," she said as she gently pried open the delicate gold circle. Inside lay a tiny picture of her son. "Mulder claims William picked it out."
Monica examined it with more, Scully thought, than a casual eye. Hadn't she mentioned her uncle or cousin being a jeweler? "William has good taste," she concluded. "Expensive, too."
Scully cleared her throat, feeling suddenly awkward. She'd known the gift hadn't come from the gumball machine outside the supermarket, as Mulder had insisted, but she hadn't considered the matter beyond that. Mulder had come from money; to him, it was just another means to an end. And while she understood that intellectually, the reality of it was still jarring. "I um-"
"What's the significance of the pattern on the front?" Monica asked. "That's - that's the four directions?"
"A compass rose."
Monica flipped the locket over. A diamond lay embedded at its center. "'North,'" she read. She raised her eyes to Dana's. "What's *that* mean?" she asked with a conspiratorial grin.
Scully could feel herself blushing. "He says I give his life direction," she said.
"Oh my god!" Monica clutched her hand to her heart. "You're his north star. Dana, that's so romantic! Icky, but romantic!"
Scully obligingly rolled her eyes.
"Seriously, Dana, it's really beautiful. Excellent quality. European gold, I'd bet, and cust-" Monica started, but she was interrupted by the high pitched squeal of microphone feedback.
"If we could all be seated, please," a man at the make-shift podium said, "we can begin."
The clusters of personnel broke up and found chairs.
"Huh," Monica whispered.
Monica pointed toward the podium with her chin. "Bobby."
"Later," Monica promised with a wave.
"Ladies and gentleman," he continued in what Scully now recognized as a cultured but identifiable West Texas drawl, "good morning and welcome. I've had a chance to meet and speak with many of you, but for those of you I have not had the pleasure of meeting, I'm ASAC Robert Perez and I'm with the San Antonio field office. As you've likely been informed by your various supervisory agents and have no doubt by now read in your hand-outs, the FBI is here at the invitation of the Mexican government and at the request of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, better known by its acronym, UNESCO."
Scully nodded to herself. None of that was news.
"As you are the best this agency has to offer, there is no need for me to tell you what you are going to have to do. I will, however, remind you, that we are here strictly in support capacity. The Mexican National Police will be handling the investigative side of this operation. You will be collecting and cataloguing data as it relates to this investigation."
"I'd like to introduce, on my left, from UNESCO, Dr. Michel DuFour, Under-Secretary for Heritage Affairs, whose secretariat is responsible for the MXVC-817 dig -"
A short, solidly built man with steel grey hair and immaculately pressed field khakis took a step forward and nodded.
"- and Agent Juan Castillo, who is leading the task force on behalf of the Mexican authorities. I'm sure many of you have questions, and I'm going to ask you to hold them until the end. Right now, let's cut to the chase."
Behind Perez, a screen flickered to life, filling Scully with both an eerie sense of deja vu and an unexpected pang of nostalgia.
"Sixteen days ago, anthropologists Dr. Stephanie Richards-"
"- Dr. Michael Casselman -"
"-and a team of three local technicians disappeared while surveying MXVC-817 -"
"- about twenty miles north of Tlachichucl, and about forty-five very bumpy minutes up that dirt track that runs past our basecamp here. Doctors Casselman and Richards were part of an advance team that would be heading up a UNESCO archeological dig at the site designated MXVC-817, believed to be a lost Olmec city. As those of you who have tried to phone home from here may have noticed, wireless telecommunications can prove something of a challenge, so no immediate steps were taken. When the team failed to report in after a full week, however, a second, fully armed S&R team was sent out to the site. There they found -"
"- signs that the site had been -"
click click click
"-recently disturbed. Finding no trace of the missing team, save Casselman's ransacked back pack and a half-empty canteen -"
"- the team contacted the local authorities. The Veracruz State police confirmed signs of recent excavation and, fearing foul play, contacted the federal authorities here in Mexico, who have jurisdiction in such matters. Because Casselmen, Richards and most of the excavation team are American citizens, the Mexican authorities contacted-"
"- the FBI. Upon further investigation, the forensics team located two areas deemed to be of particular interest."
"Because the area in and around Tlachichucl is archeologically significant and has been designated a world heritage site, ground penetrating radar was used to conduct the preliminary survey, which confirmed that there were voids present in the disturbed areas. Consequently, a test excavation was undertaken, revealing-"
'Bodies,' Scully thought, anticipating what she knew was coming. 'Lots and lots of bodies.'
Scully grimaced in spite of herself.
"As of this morning, fourteen bodies in various early stages of decomposition have been recovered from Site Alpha-"
"and another twelve from Site Beta, none of which, as of this moment, have been positively identified. We are expecting as many as a few dozen more, but that number could be either low or high. Preliminary findings indicate that the victims were shot execution-style in the back of the head or at the base of the skull. The extensive burning you seen on these corpses has been established to have been caused by a combination of combustion and some as yet to be determined caustic agent, most likely an acid."
The screen went dark. Perez paused.
"Since we don't know exactly who we are dealing with or what their ultimate objective is, armed guards have been posted around the excavation area and here at the base camp. For your safety, we're asking that you not attempt to leave this area without an armed escort, and even then, I'll be honest with you, I don't suggest it. There's not a lot to see around this area but trees, bugs, and political rebels.
"You've each been assigned to one of three teams as indicated in your hand-outs." He held up an envelope similar to the one they'd each received. "Breakfast is being served in about five minutes in the mess tent. If you have any questions, please see myself or Dr. DuFour-"
"What the-?" Monica said under her breath as she glanced, apparently for the first time, through her papers.
"What?" Scully whispered.
Monica scowled. "They have me scheduled to do autopsies."
Scully blinked. "That's going to be tricky."
"Ya think?" Monica flipped through the rest of the pages. "Oh, I see."
"This package was intended for Dr. Maria M. Reyes. She must have picked up my envelop by mistake."
Perez continued. "Team One is scheduled to report to Tent One at oh-nine-hundred. Bottled water and snacks will be available all day. There are wild animals around, so do your very best not to leave scraps of food around or you could end up with a snake or a monkey joining you for a bite to eat. We're expecting it to get hotter, so stay hydrated, wear a hat, and use bug repellent and sunscreen. And let me remind you again, please do not leave camp. Are there any questions?"
A man two rows ahead of Scully raised his hand.
"Yes?" Perez said.
The man stood. "Good morning. I'm Dr. Simon Fisher, I'm here with the British contingent."
"Dr. Fisher," Perez acknowledged with a nod of his head. "Glad to have you and your compatriots on board."
"Yes, thank you, we're glad to be able to help out, especially in light of the horrendous nature of this crime." Fisher said. "Agent Perez, do we have any idea who is responsible for this slaughter?"
Agent Castillo, silent until now, stepped forward. "If I may?"
Perez stepped aside.
"Officially, Dr. Fisher, we have no comment," Castillo said. "Unofficially, we suspect this is the work of Qetual Separatists. These terrorists have been heavily involved in the drug trade in this part of Mexico for decades, using the money from drug sales to further their political and social objectives. They are ruthless individuals, very superstitious, and they have no qualms about using deadly force against anyone who may stand in their way. They are led by a man named Jorge Salinas. He and his groups have been linked to a number of murders in the US and Canada, and as far south as Guatemala."
"So these are your prime suspects?" Fisher asked. "Salinas and these Quetal Separatists?"
Castillo gave an ironic smile. "Officially, no comment."
Perez stepped back in front of the screen. "Anything else pressing?" He glanced around the tent. "No? All right, if anything should come up, please don't hesitate to let me know. I should be easy enough to find. Now, let's go eat."
"I have to talk to Bobby," Monica said as she stood. "Figure out where I'm really supposed to be."
Scully gathered her papers. "Where do you know Agent Perez from?"
"The Academy," Monica answered as they made their way toward the front. "Nice guy. Good agent. We worked a few cases when I was first assigned. Kind of by the book, but not in a bad way. He was always willing to listen to my wild theories before he told me I was full of shit."
"Sounds like my kind of agent," Scully said.
"I plead The Fifth."
"Excuse me." Scully felt a tentative tap on her arm. "You are Dr. Dana Scully, no?"
"Yes, I am." She turned. "And you are?"
"I am Dr. Irina Vetkova," the tall willowy blonde said, extending her hand. "It is a very great honor to meet you."
Scully took the woman's hand. "Nice to meet you, Dr. Vetkova. This is my colleague, Special Agent Monica Reyes."
"Dr. Vetkova," Monica acknowledged with a nod. "If you'll both excuse me, I have to speak to Agent Perez. Nice to meet you, doctor."
"I have followed for many years your work, Doctor Scully."
Scully gave Vetkova a quick, appraising glance. Frankly, she woman didn't look old enough to have studied much of anything for many years. "Really?"
"Da. Yes," Vetkova replied. "It has been groundbreaking. Unique."
'Unique' pretty much covered it, Scully thought. As far as she knew she had the only published paper on the physiology of a human-flukeworm hybrid. Or the pathology of a liver eating mutant. Or the first-hand effects of a giant hallucinogenic fungus.
"That's very flattering, Doctor. Thank you."
"Please," Vetkova said, "please call me Irina."
"Then please call me Dana, Irina."
"Thank you, Dana. I hope while we are working here we might have a chance to speak, yes? There are many questions about your work I would very much wish to discuss with you."
"I think that could probably be arranged, Irina," Scully said. "You're a pathologist?"
Vetkova shook her head. "No," she said. "By training, I am immunologist."
That was unexpected. "An immunologist? How'd you end up on this project?"
"I am volunteer," Vetkova explained. "It is a chance to do a good thing, to help many people. This is very bad, what has happened here. A very bad thing."
Scully nodded. "Very."
"Also," Vetkova, continued, "it is a chance to also to expand my research, and to meet others in my area of interest. Network, you say? My research has taken me to many parts of the world - Florida, Texas, Antarctica, Siberia, Africa, many times before to Mexico, and to Canada, also."
"And what exactly is your area of research?"
"Immunology, in general, yes? But my special interest, it is known by many names. Some call it 'black cancer'. I think you know of this, have done research also?"
Scully blinked. "Yes," she said. "Yes, but - but it led no where. And that was many years ago."
"Perhaps not so many, Dana," Vetkova said. "Tell me, Agent Mulder, he is well now? I have heard he was very sick."
"You know-?" Scully began, but was interrupted by Monica's return.
"I am sorry to intrude," Reyes said, "but I need to get my gear stowed and find a bunk. Dana, could you point me toward-"
"I was just heading there myself," Scully said. Vetkova's words had unnerved her, and she was grateful for the opportunity to get away. "It was very nice to meet you, Doctor Vetkova."
"Perhaps we can talk later?"
"Perhaps," Scully agreed.
"Who was that?" Monica asked as she hoisted her overnight bag and followed Scully down the path. "President of the Dana Scully Fan Club, Vladivostok Chapter?"
"Something like that." Scully shook her head as if to clear away cobwebs. "What did Agent Perez say?"
Monica shrugged. "'There's clearly been a mix -up,'" she quoted.
"They only promote the smart ones." Scully pulled back the tent flap. "Home sweet home," she said and waved Monica in. "Let's get your gear stored and get to work."
Monica waved good night to the departing Norwegians she had been working with all day and made her way toward the buffet table at the far end of the mess tent. The air under was thick with the aroma of chilies and cilantro, smells that normally would have made her mouth water, maybe even given her a little pang of homesickness for her grandmother's apartment in Mexico City. But right now, frankly, she was too tired and too hot to be hungry *or* nostalgic. As homey as the food on the buffet might smell, what she really wanted was a pint of Ben and Jerry's and an A/C unit blowing straight up her nose.
"Hey, there you are," Dana said, stepping up behind her.
"Hey," Monica responded, picking up a plate. "I looked for you at lunch."
Dana picked up a bottle of water, twisted off the lid and took a quick swallow. "I worked through lunch. There was a lot of work waiting for us once we finally got started this morning."
"I noticed." Monica lifted her hair off her neck and waited for a breeze. "They've got me cataloguing personal effects. There was a ton of stuff to sort through and label."
"I believe it." Dana took another drink. "I worked on eight bodies today. Eight times however many of us there are - that's a lot of bodies."
Monica put some salad onto her plate, speared a chunk of fresh pineapple. It wasn't usually a good idea to eat uncooked food when you weren't intimately familiar with the water supply, but she figured the UN was probably fairly particular about feeding its people. At least she hoped so. "Eight? In one day? Isn't that a lot?"
"It is." Dana nodded. "Cause of death is pretty obvious, though. A bullet to the back of the head will do it every time. Plus all the bodies so far are extensively burned. There isn't a lot to actually autopsy. Mostly it's about finding enough clues to identify the victims."
"That's why I've been cleaning and cataloguing jewelry and fillings and pictures of tattoos?"
"That's why," Dana replied. "Glamorous, isn't it? Just like all those TV shows." She stopped and rolled her neck from one side to the other. "God, I am exhausted. And my feet are killing me."
"Mine too," Monica said. "I think the last time I wore boots this heavy I was in a mosh pit somewhere in downtown Providence."
"Grad school," Monica answered. "During my early Doc Martens period."
"Ah." Dana smiled, probably remembering her own Doc Martens days. Monica knew for all the prim-and-proper she showed the world, her friend had a broad if well-concealed wild streak.
"They're right about FedEx running the tightest ship in the shipping business, though."
Monica settled a scoop of rice and beans on her plate. "Hmm?"
"If John got your boots here that fast. Or is he just psychic? Was it precognitive shipping?" she teased.
"Unfortunately, neither. Someone's assistant had an extra pair, so Bobby borrowed them for me." Monica lifted a foot for Dana to see. "They're only one size too big. I had to put on three pairs of socks to keep them from sliding all over the place. Pretty lucky, huh?"
Dana arched a brow. "Three pairs of socks in this heat sounds pretty sweaty, not pretty lucky."
"Ahh, but I just keep thinking about how good it's going to feel when I get to take them off."
"Well, there's always that." Dana chuckled. "Oh, what's that dish?"
"Fried yucca," Monica said, helping herself to a few slices. "Not fancy, but filling."
"Hmm." Dana wrinkled her nose. "I think I'll take your word for it. Were you able to get through to John?"
Monica shook her head. "Nope. Couldn't get a signal. This table okay?"
Scully nodded, seated herself. "I couldn't get a hold of Mulder, either."
Monica dug into her food. She hadn't really been hungry before, but now that she had food in front of her, she was ravenous. "Maybe we'll have better luck after dinner, when the satellites swing back around this way or whatever it is they do."
"I hope," Scully said, shaking her head. "To think I used to tease Mulder about being lost without his cell phone."
Monica took another bite of yucca. Not as good as her grandmother's, but better than a lot she'd eaten. "You worried?"
Monica grinned. "Mr. Mom."
"Not worried," Scully corrected. "More like. . .concerned."
Noting the sudden downward turn in Dana's mood, Monica said, "I'm sure they're fine."
"Oh, so am I," Dana replied quickly. "Mulder has taken to parenting like a fish takes to tartar sauce. It's just . . .odd."
Dana half-shrugged. "I lived alone most of my adult life, and I thought I was comfortable on my own. More than comfortable. All my things were where I wanted them, I watched whatever TV shows I wanted to watch, showered when I wanted. But you sure get used to living with other people pretty quickly, you know, having them there all the time, messing stuff up, hogging the remote, leaving the empty orange juice carton in the fridge. Or at least, I did. Have. You know what I mean."
Monica nodded. "We're herd animals," she said. "We're happier with the rest of the pack. Or our little share of it, at least. That's likely why solitary confinement is considered harsh. And probably why the neighbors are always saying 'he was such a nice, quiet man, always kept to himself - we had no idea that when he had people for dinner, he really *had* them for dinner'. It probably also explains-"
She looked up. Dana was grinning at her, clearly bemused.
"Sorry." Monica grinned. "I minored in socio-anthropology. I never know when it's going to sneak out."
Dana shrugged back. "I usually cut up bodies five days a week and I live with a man who used to profile," she said. "Add seven years on the X-Files to that and you should hear our dinnertime conversation. Speaking of which, this," she gestured to her plate, "is really good."
"Chicken mole," Monica said. "That was one of my favorites growing up. My aunt makes it with pork, and a little spicier. It's so goo-"
"Excuse me, Dr. Scully, may we join you and your companion?"
Monica looked up from her food. She vaguely remembered Dr. Fisher from the briefing this morning, but she couldn't place the tall, thin, 30-ish Asian man with him.
"Of course, Dr. Fisher," Dana responded. "And it's still Dana."
"In that case, Dana, it's still Simon." He extended his hand to Monica. "Simon Fisher."
"Monica," she responded. "Monica Reyes."
"And this," he gestured, "is Andrew Ng."
"Just Drew, thanks," he said as he shook her hand. Monica thought she detected an Australian accent.
"Simon and Drew are with Scotland Yard," Dana said.
"Pathologists?" Monica asked.
"Forensic anthropologists," Simon corrected.
"Oh?" Monica asked.
"Bones, in my case, " Simon said. "Or more correctly, skeletal and contextual evidence, since Drew here is a paleoethnobotanist by training."
"My particular passion is petrified pollen," he explained, popping all the p's.
"Drew's the life of the party," Simon stage-whispered, "so long as it's a garden party."
"Too right," Drew agreed good naturedly. "This is really good. Do either of you know what it is?"
"Chicken mole," Monica said. "The local variation on it, at least."
"Reyes, right?" Drew asked. "You from around these parts?"
Monica shook her head. "I grew up outside of Mexico City, but I was born in Texas."
"Like me, then," Drew said. "A transplant. I was born in Hong Kong, grew up all over Australia. My dad was in mining."
Monica nodded. "Both my parents worked for SynTexis oil. But my father's family was originally from Mexico." Monica decided she could leave out the part about both parents being killed by a drunk driver when she was fourteen months old and her subsequent adoption by her paternal grandparents. "So I don't suppose they have you looking at a lot of petrified pollen this time out?"
Drew shook his head. "So far, no. I usually do skeletal analysis back at the Yard anyway, so that's what they've got lined up. Spent the day looking at x-rays, mainly. Bet there's some fascinating local flora, though."
"'Fascinating' and 'local flora' don't belong in the same sentence, mate," Simon said.
"Declares the tooth fairy," Drew countered.
In response to Monica's raised brow, Simon explained, "My specialty is odontology, and yes, before you start with the jokes, I assure you I've heard every single one of them."
"So, Monica," Drew started, but the way he made it sound like *moniker* made her grin, "what's your thing? Are you a pathologist like Dana?"
Monica shook her head, finished off the last of her food. "Law enforcement."
"FBI, like me," Dana said. "We work together in DC."
"Actually," Monica added, "it appears I am here by mistake. They confused me - Monica Maria Reyes - with Dr. Maria Monica Reyes, who apparently works out of the LA office."
Drew grinned. "Good to know bureaucracy is bureaucracy the world over."
"Dr. DuFour!" someone called from the other side of the tent.
"Yes?" a voice said from almost directly behind her. "Ah, Dr. Bhattacharya, good to see you."
Monica turned her head. The Undersecretary, with his tray of rice and beans, stood by her chair. The small, square, teak colored man who had called to him came rushing over. She turned discreetly back to her food, pretending not to eavesdrop.
"There you are, sir," Bhattacharya said in a voice that was both too loud and too high-pitched for an enclosed space, even if it was one made primarily of canvas. "All day I have searched for you."
"No rest, as they say, for the wicked," DuFour replied. "How have you been, old friend?"
"Well," Bhattacharya replied. "Very well, save for the ghastly business that brings us all here. "
"Ghastly says it well," DuFour said. "Why don't we-"
"I wish to make a site visit," Bhattacharya said. "If this is truly Chataqalan, I-"
"No no no," DuFour said. "Chataqalan? Who has told you such a thing?"
"The location is correct," Bhattacharya said. "If this is the lost city, is would be a find beyond compare."
"That is a very great 'if,' my friend." DuFour said. "If it were the lost city, yes, the find would have been spectacular, but there is no reason to think it is. None at all."
"But the dig-?"
"And even if it were, anything that was to be found is by now surely compromised," DuFour said. "You cannot have exhumations of modern graves and careful archeology together. Like oil and wine, the two do not mix."
"Still," Bhattacharya persisted, "I would very much like to see it for myself."
"I am afraid that's not possible," DuFour answered. "It is far too dangerous."
"But there are workers on the site, are there not?"
"Of course," DuFour said. "Essential personnel only. Heavily armed, at that. But it would be foolish to endanger anyone else by-"
DuFour's words dropped away as his arm made brief contact with the back of Monica's head. "I'm so sorry," DuFour said. "Please excuse-"
His arm bumped her again, but with more impact. Monica didn't really notice, since the ground itself was so busy shaking beneath her. Her mind flashed back to the quake that had hit Mexico City the year she turned 14. She'd been out shopping after school with Marisol and Anita, her two best friends, when the department store began to sway. They'd run for the street, where thousands of people screamed and panicked around them. She'd never been as terrified before, and, even with the things she'd seen, had rarely been as terrified since.
As suddenly as it had begun, it was over.
"What the hell?" Simon asked, wide-eyed.
"Monica, are-?" Dana began.
"TMVB," DuFour said, addressing the table. "This region is part of the Trans-Mexico Volcanic Belt, and we are standing on the buckle." He turned back to Bhattacharya. "Yet another reason to avoid the site. There is a large vent that has been spewing rock and ash these past few months."
Bhattacharya looked stricken. "But if there is an eruption all could be lost."
"Such is the way of these things," DuFour replied with a slight shrug.
"Dr. DuFour," Dana broke into the conversation, "are those carrying out the excavations staying on site?"
DuFour turned to her. "Yes, for the moment they are, Miss-?"
"Dr. Scully," she replied, "Dana Scully."
"For the moment, yes."
"Really?" Monica heard her self ask. "Is that wise, Doctor?"
"And you are?"
"Special Agent Monica Reyes, FBI."
"Well, Special Agent Reyes, 'wise' is - how is it said - a loaded word." DuFour smiled, showing a row of perfect teeth. "'Necessary' is perhaps a better one. There is, I am assured by the best geologists on the planet, very little chance of a massive eruption in the area. But the risk of MXVC-817 being destroyed by any number of sudden lava flows is constant. This is why, once the site was identified, the project was given accelerated status. At least, until this latest tragic turn of events. Now it may simply be a race to recover as many bodies as we can before the volcano goddess Chantico casts us out."
"But are the excavators safe?" Monica asked.
"As safe as they might be," he replied. "As safe as any of us ever is."
"Dr. DuFour," a man called from the front of the tent, "there's a call for you, sir. Urgent, they say."
"Ah, finally, the satellite gods are smiling upon us." DuFour grinned. "If you'll excuse me, Dr. Scully, Agent Reyes, gentlemen." DuFour nodded once, then headed off with his tray.
"Volcanoes, rebellious natives, mass graves, earthquakes." Drew turned to Fisher. "Makes me homesick," he deadpanned.
Simon rolled his eyes. "If that's Oz, you can have it."
Dana gathered the remnants of her dinner on to her tray. "The phones are apparently back up, so I have go attempt a few calls," she said. "If you'll excuse-"
"Hang on," Monica said, rising. She tucked her last chunk of pineapple into her mouth. "I'm done. I'll come with you. "
Drew and Simon both stood. "I'm done, as well," Drew said.
"Let me take that for you, Dana." Simon said, reaching for her tray. "I wanted to ask you about..."
"Monica," Drew said, "would you be up for a walk later on?"
"I-" she began, surprised.
"Just a walk." He smiled. "Work off some of these starches. I'll hardly mention pollen at all. Promise."
Monica quickly considered her options. She could go for a walk with a reasonably attractive man, or she could sit in her tent and --
"Um, sure," she said. "We're in tent four. I have to make a quick call, but give me fifteen or twenty minutes, and I'll be good to go, okay?"
"Deal," Drew said. "See you in seventeen and a half minutes."